**Warning: Monstrous post ahead!**
Austin & I are starting to make a tradition of a winter get-away. Since our 10th Anniversary is coming up this summer, we decided to take a bigger trip and return to the Islands. We went to Maui (with a day trip to Honolulu/Pearl Harbor) for our honeymoon. This time we decided to explore the Hawaiian island of Kaua'i.
Kaua'i is the fourth largest of the major Hawaiian Islands and is one of the westernmost. It is nicknamed the "Garden Isle" because of its lush vegetation. Only about 10% of the island is accessible by road, mostly a narrow strip around the coast. There is no road that circles the entire island because the northwest Na Pali Coast is too rugged. The permanent population of the island is about 67,000, and it functions as a single county with a mayoral head and small towns scattered around.
We spent all of Super Bowl Sunday getting there. We caught the very fuzzy 4th quarter on the airplane during the approach into Lihu'e. It was an exciting game to miss, but we said Aloha to this...
Plus, after getting settled in at the Kauai Beach Resort, we sat in the lounge watching all the highlights over and over again on ESPN. :o)
Today was a recovery day. I was wide awake at 4:30am, even before the roosters started crowing. After a delicious breakfast buffet at the resort, we spent most of the day lounging around the pool area. This was the view from our second-floor lanai (balcony).
After driving down a long, tree-lined road, this is the entrance to the resort:
I actually spent most of the day planning what we were going to do the rest of the week. I had a bunch of brochures from the airport, a list of recommendations from my parents and Aunt & Uncle, and an awesome app called Kauai Revealed. I also got a much-needed pedicure at the spa. :o)
One of the first things anyone will tell you about Kaua'i is the wild chickens. They are everywhere. There are several legends explaining their existence, but the fact is they have no natural predators on the island, they eat lots of bugs, are relatively clean, the roosters are beautiful, and they have become a part of the lore and charm of the island. If you can get past the early morning wake-up calls, they really aren't bothersome. Below is the proud papa rooster who could often be seen (and heard) strutting around the pool deck with the protective mama and her 8+ chicks scuttling behind.
One of the things I wanted to do was rent some bikes from Kaua'i Cycle and ride along the Kapa'a coastal bike path. It is currently 5 miles long, but it is eventually supposed to be much longer. It was a crazy weather day on the East Shore. We got rained on three times during the four hours we had the bikes, but the showers would quickly pass, and the warm sun would soon dry you off. The views along the path were worth it.
We watched some surfers and stopped for lunch before returning the bikes. On the way back to the resort we stopped at the lookout point for Sleeping Giant Mountain. Can you see him lying on his back?
That afternoon the resort had a Hula/Welcome ceremony/reception. There were some neat dancers and musicians. It got rained on at the end but was fun to watch for a while.
In search of sunnier weather, we headed to the South Shore today. Our first stop was Spouting Horns. This is a natural lava formation where the waves spray up through a blow-hole. We were there during low tide, so it wasn't as spectacular. There is a video in February play list.
We spent the middle of the day at Po'ipu Beach. This is a picture looking back at the beach from the natural jetty. It is one of the more popular snorkeling spots. We went snorkeling on our honeymoon. It's intriguing, but I just can't bring myself to stick my face into saltwater. :op
We did see some wildlife, though. There was a Hawaiian Monk Seal sunning close by on the beach the entire time we were there. He flopped around every once in a while. They are so endangered, if one decides to park it on the beach, the area around it is roped off and everyone stands around taking pictures.
A sea turtle swimming right by the shore also attracted some attention. Can you tell what are rocks and what is the sea turtle?
I posted the picture above on Facebook as "My current view" and also texted it to my mom and the kids back home. My mom replied with "Who needs a beach?" and the following pictures:
In lieu of the snorkeling, Austin suggested we rent a stand-up paddle board (SUP). You see people cruising around on those things everywhere--oftentimes with one or two little kids sitting on the front. Well, we can tell you it's a lot harder than they make it look! After about 30 minutes, Austin got the hang of it. Here he is looking cool in his shades:
I spent most of my time looking like this:
This was part of the maybe 30 seconds total I was standing up (although I only actually fell into the water once):
On the drive back to the resort, we went through the mile-long "Tunnel of Trees" made up of 100-year-old Eucalyptus trees:
That evening, Austin was a sweetheart and went along with my plan to attend a dinner theater at the resort with "South Pacific" performed by highly-acclaimed local actors. Aside from the fact that it was really chilly and the average age of the audience was at least 65, it was really good! Yes, I have a fake flower clip in my hair that all the tourists wear, and yes, I bought the souvenir photo just so I could put it on the blog. Plus, it's the only picture I got of us dressed up nice together :o)
Since we stayed on the East Shore, and there is a four hour time difference, I got up to see the sunrise several times (which was actually at a reasonable 7:15am). This morning I took a bunch of pictures. I'm not a professional photographer, and it's hard to pick just one, so here are some of my favorites:
After breakfast, Austin & I went for a beach walk/hike. The resort itself has a very narrow stretch of beach that is not considered "swimmable" because of the lava rock shelf and waves/current (as seen in sunrise photos). The beach going north of our resort had a river/stream that had to be crossed with no bridge. It required stepping at least once into 6" of swift moving water. Austin just splashed through it when he went for his run on a previous day, but I didn't feel like getting my socks and shoes wet. The shoreline to the south was about a mile of undeveloped state park land. It turned into more of a hike than a walk over lava rocks. Austin showed me how to use the panorama feature on my iPhone. I wish I would have remembered to take more of those shots! (Side note: One of the hazards of Mid-westerners taking winter vacations is the inevitable sunburn. You always find out where you missed with the sunscreen the next day. Austin & I had some pretty good laughs over our awful splotchiness. I wore a sun hat the entire time. Austin borrowed one of my hats by this day.)
The big event of the day was an hour-long helicopter tour of the island with Blue Hawaiian Helicopters. It was absolutely amazing! Flying in a non-medical helicopter was on my life bucket list. This one was so smooth and comfortable. We got to see parts of the island you can only see by air, plus parts that we didn't have time to get to. They sell a souvenir DVD made from cameras on the helicopter during your actual flight, but there was a glitch in our DVD (of course).
We circled humpback whales breaching in the Pacific Ocean, the amazing Na Pali Coast, Waimea Canyon, hidden waterfalls and the crater of Mt. Waiale'ale--the wettest spot on earth, averaging 460 inches of rain per year. I got a little nauseous, but it was totally worth it!
We got back to the resort and spent the rest of the afternoon resting and hanging out at the pool. The resort had a series of four pools and two hot tubs with lots of waterfall features and even a water slide. One of the pools was a shallow "sand" pool with what was more like really small gravel on the bottom and surrounding it as a simulated beach. Here are some pictures of the pool area:
I couldn't resist taking a "Why did the chicken cross the road?" picture while we were there. :o)
After a very late lunch, we drove halfway up the Waimea Canyon Road to the Waimea Canyon Lookout Point. We went from sea level to 3500 feet in approximately 7 very curvy miles. The view was spectacular, although a bit misty with rain showers blowing through. Except for a passing helicopter, the silence was deafening compared to the constant trade winds and traffic on the coast. The Waimea Canyon has been nicknamed "The Grand Canyon of the Pacific," Credit is given to Mark Twain, although it was later proved he never visited Kaua'i. Regardless, it is a marvel of God's creation. I wish I would have taken a panorama shot here, but I forgot it was an option. Here are a few regular shots:
We didn't have time to drive further or hike any trails, so we headed back towards the airport. We made a brief stop at Kilohana Plantation--a restored sugar plantation built in 1935 that now houses shops and a restaurant. Then we wandered down to Nawiliwili Harbor where we watched the sunset while the locals gathered to hang out and fish. We could see beautiful tropical fish swimming in the water below. It was the perfect ending to our Hawaiian vacation!
We had an overnight flight and went through LAX & Denver before arriving home mid-afternoon on Saturday. The kids were super excited to see us, and we were glad to be home again. :o)
I didn't mention much about the food on our trip because I thought it deserved a special section all its own. Austin travels and eats out a lot for work, but I don't, so vacation turns into a culinary adventure for me. We enjoyed eating great food at some really nice restaurants, as well as some local gems. We especially enjoyed the incredible salad bar at Duke's Canoe Club in Lihu'e and the beautiful setting and three-course meal at Hukilau Lanai in Kapa'a. The resort restaurants were pretty good, too. Other highlights were coconut shrimp and shrimp tacos from The Shrimp Station in Waimea and french toast with coconut syrup at Ono Family Restaurant. The picture below shows (left to right) the scrumptious lava flow drink from the resort lounge, Scotty's Beachside BBQ overlooking the ocean on our bike ride and a Lava Flow shaved ice from Hee Fat General Store. This was quite possibly the most amazing frozen confection I've ever had. It was a giant scoop of macadamia nut ice cream mounded with exquisite shaved ice flavored in strawberry, pineapple and coconut with a light spray of some kind of whipped coconut cream covering the whole thing = Heaven.
My only food regret is not buying a coconut from a roadside stand where they hack it apart and stick a straw in the middle. Next time...
The weather in Kauai was cooler than I expected. Maybe it was because it was February. Maybe it was because we stayed on the East Shore with constant 20mph trade winds (although with the humidity, you definitely would not want to be without the welcome breeze). I oftentimes found myself searching out the sunny spots and cursing the clouds just to stay warm even though it was 72 during the day and 65 at night. Next time I would pack more layers and might consider staying on the sunnier South Shore.
The Kaua'i Beach Resort was very nice, although our specific room was a bit worn and had some issues with the AC and musty smelling carpet. I would definitely pay extra for the Oceanview room like we had and would think about Ocean Front.
I liked the humidity but my hair did not. Nothing dried and everything frizzed. I also officially decided I'm [unofficially] allergic to winter (at least the cold, dry air part). Five days in the tropics did not completely cure my annual winter cough, but it got noticably worse again after returning home. Unfortunately, I am too young to be a snowbird. :o(
Hawaiians are serious about being energy-efficient and environmentally conscious. There are CFL bulbs and solar panels everywhere. The week we were there the resort made the conversion to a multi-million dollar solar panel project doubling as covered guest parking. There are recycling bins next to every public trash can. There is a $.10 deposit on cans/bottles. At Wal-mart, plastic bags aren't even an available option. If you didn't bring your own re-useable bag, you can purchase one for $.50 or attempt to carry all your items in your arms. There are signs reminding you not to leave your vehicle idling (although with gas at $4.61/gallon, you'd probably think of that one yourself).
Traffic is heavy on the few roads there are on the island with lots of ongoing road construction. The average speed limit is 35mph with only a few places we drove where it was briefly up to 50mph. It is more helpful to look at charts telling you how many minutes it takes to get from place to place or using a map app rather than looking at the number of miles--a hard concept for Mid-westerners. :o)
This was an amazing trip, but it was also a big learning experience for me. Austin & I haven't traveled a lot since having kids and are still learning how to vacation with each other. We had very different childhood experiences and therefore, have different expectations. Austin's ideal vacation would be to sit by a beach or pool and read and do nothing the entire time. I did that last year in Mexico--even going unplugged--and found myself getting restless after three days. This year I made the mistake of over-planning and turning it into a "go and see" rather than "R&R" vacation. Granted, there are more [safer] things to go and see in Hawaii than in Mexico and many more places to go and eat.
I am a planner but tend to go overboard in an attempt to maximize the time and weather we have available. Because I spent so much time planning and executing the plan, I don't feel like I really relaxed a lot--although I didn't set an alarm for five days and took several naps. That counts for something! I also spent way too much time on my phone planning our week, keeping up with Facebook, some email and playing app games with family & friends. I didn't even open any of the books I brought along!
I texted back and forth with my mom, sending pictures for her to show the kids. I only talked to her on the phone once and never to the kids. I think that was good. They had a fabulous time with Grandma and probably hardly missed us. I honestly didn't miss them that much until we were on our way home, and I couldn't remember exactly what their voices sounded like. Strange. A huge Mahalo to my mom for staying with the kids and getting them where they needed to go during the week. Below is a picture of a giant train track they constructed on Sodor, Misty Island and Danger Island (made up by Emily).
Anyway, Austin was a wonderful sport and went along with my every whim and desire. He found time to read and relax in between all my planned activities. Next time I'll know better to leave more space. To be more unplugged. To vacation like I will come back someday and not try to cram everything into a "perfect" one-time experience. With that being said, I still have a long list of places I like to go and see/do in Kaua'i: drive to the North Shore, see the Kilauea Lighthouse, Wailua Falls, tour the Allerton Gardens at the Tropical Botanical Garden, further explore the Kilohana Plantation, drive all the way to Koke'e State Park at the end of the Waimea Canyon Drive and hike to a waterfall. And there's always that fresh coconut...